Shoftim: Do We Measure Up?

A fascinating slant on justice.

Rabbi S. Weiss,

Judaism לבן ריק
לבן ריק
Arutz 7

One word essentially sums up our parsha: justice. Whether speaking about social, economic or legal justice, the sedra is telling us that the rule of law and the establishment of human courts to secure truth and justice are central to our national survival and ethical excellence.
Justice must be obtained only through just means.

The most famous phrase here is, "Justice, justice shall you pursue." Why the double phraseology? Many opinions have been offered:

1) When seeking justice or truth, one must strive to find the highest, most competent and knowledgeable sources.

2) Justice must be obtained only through just means.

3) Justice is sometimes administered on a human level, but at other times it is dispensed "at the hands of Heaven."

There is yet another fascinating slant on tsedek, tsedek. The Gemara in Sanhedrin explains that one approach to justice is to be strict, with no quarter or compromise given; while another type of justice is to be flexible, with healthy amounts of compromise and compassion. Both have their place in a just society.

There are times when society and its judges must be strict and rigidly unbending. At those times, even Torah law may be superseded or bypassed, if the authorities see fit. For example, the Sanhedrin could (and did, though rarely) impose the death penalty on people who rode horses on Shabbat, which, at most, is a rabbinic prohibition and certainly not a capital offense. And we know that chazal forbade sounding the shofar on Shabbat Rosh Hashana, despite it being mandated by the Torah and actually done in the days of the Beit HaMikdash.

And yet, we also see amazing lenience regarding the laws of Shabbat when necessary. For instance, the Gemara suspends certain restrictions (e.g., muktzeh) when kavod habriyot - human dignity - is involved. (Along those
The way we judge others may be the way HaShem judges us.
same lines, posek Rabbi Dovid Cohen gave me a heter for flushing electric toilets with a shinui on Shabbat.) And one is permitted to light a lamp on Shabbat, says the Shulchan Aruch, in a room with a pregnant woman - even if that woman happens to be blind! - if it will enhance her peace of mind in case she goes into labor.

I humbly suggest that, all too often, we tend to take the strict approach to judgment both in how we judge others, as well as how we treat them. But perhaps, in these crucial days before Yom Kippur, we can try to err on the lenient side - give people the benefit of the doubt, shrug off an insult, demand less than our fair share. After all, the way we judge others may be the way HaShem judges us.

The Gemara says that going beyond the measure of the law is the key to Redemption. Do we measure up?